Spain players hold the Henri Delaunay Trophy aloft after beating Germany 1-0 in Sunday's Euro 2008 final in Vienna. ((Franck Fife/Getty Images))

Spain's victory in the European Championship was hailed by the prime minister Monday as not just a breakthrough for soccer but for the nation as well.

"It is right that a football victory on this level strengthens the unity in a country," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said during a visit to Denmark. "It is the first time we, as a democratic nation, have won a title."

Spain captured its first major soccer trophy in 44 years Sunday with a 1-0 victory over Germany in Austria. The Spaniards won the 1964 European Championship when the country was a fascist dictatorship under Gen. Francisco Franco.

With Spain having shed its tag as a perennial soccer underachiever, there was an outpouring of exultation across the country.

"It's no longer a dream, it's a reality: We're champions!" the daily Marca said on its front page, which featured a photo of captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas hoisting the championship trophy.

The team went unbeaten with a string of beguiling attacking displays orchestrated by a vibrant midfield. Spain defeated Sweden, defending champion Greece, World Cup champion Italy and Russia twice en route to the title.

After the late-night celebrations, a 40-year-old man wearing a red Spain jersey was found dead in Madrid. He sustained head injuries apparently from a fall, media reports said. There were 52 arrests.

At least 65,000 fans — the same number on hand for the outdoor viewing of the final — were expected to turn up at Colon Square on Monday when the team returns to Madrid. The celebration was to feature an open-top bus leading the 23 players and coaching staff through the capital.

Spain's young team entered Euro 2008 as a favourite despite a poor showing in the 2006 World Cup — a second-round ouster by France. Before Sunday's victory, Spain hadn't passed the quarterfinals of a major tournament since losing the 1984 European Championship final to France.

For a nation that has produced two of the world's greatest teams (Real Madrid and FC Barcelona), Spain had somehow always been found wanting at crunch time despite triumphs at the junior levels of European and World Cup competitions.

Now, the soccer team joins the growing list of Spanish athletes to make their names across the world.

Fernando Alonso has two Formula One championships; Rafael Nadal is threatening to add a Wimbledon title to his four French Open ones; Pau Gasol nearly had his first NBA ring with the Los Angeles Lakers to go with the world title he won two years ago; and Alberto Contador's Giro d'Italia victory showed his Tour de France victory last year was no fluke.

Soccer has caught up in the land of bullfighters.

The Publico newspaper screamed the news across its front page: "Finally!"